When you’re getting close to your due date, or in some cases, past your due date, you start looking for any signs that labor is imminent.
For some women, labor begins in full force, and there’s no mistaking it for Braxton Hicks contractions, indigestion, or regular old cramps. However, for some women, early labor begins and can last hours or even days, and the signs of labor aren’t immediately obvious.
Once active labor begins, there’s very little confusion, as actual labor contractions become pretty unmistakable for anything else. The baby moves into the birth canal, and sometimes, there’s even a sudden burst of amniotic fluid, which is your water breaking.
This article will go over the many signs that labor is 24 to 48 hours away, from early labor to active labor and even that annoying and false labor. Armed with the information below, you’ll be able to identify typical labor signs.
The process and stages of labor
If this is your first baby, you may have some inaccurate ideas of what it looks like and feels like when labor begins. Nearly all of us have seen movies where a woman is nine months pregnant, and suddenly, while shopping or sitting at home preparing for baby, there’s a gush of amniotic fluid, and the woman is in immediate active labor.
She runs, hails a cab, gets to the hospital, has exactly two beads of sweat on her brow, pushes for thirty seconds, and her baby is born, suddenly looking three months old. Then the woman smiles, holds her baby, and all is well and over with.
Or maybe you have absolutely no idea what is supposed to occur, and you’re scrambling for any clues or signs that labor is imminent. In either case, unless you are armed with actual information from other mothers, articles like this one, and your healthcare provider, it can be tricky to spot the signs of labor.
Three stages of labor
There are three stages of labor: early labor, active labor, and after birth. There is also a pesky type of labor known as false labor. Each comes with its own identifying early signs and symptoms.
This occurs when your body is “practicing for labor” to begin. This is usually identifiable with Braxton Hicks contractions, which are uncomfortable but not painful contractions that don’t get closer together. They usually come and go, and they aren’t regular in timing.
If you change your activity or position in bed, the cramping or “contractions” will often stop or lessen in frequency and intensity. This is a sure sign that it is not the true labor contractions you are experiencing.
This sort of false contraction can occur any time in the third trimester, and they don’t necessarily mean that labor is about to begin.
When active labor begins, there are several signs labor is occurring. First of all, labor contractions begin in full swing, and labor starts in earnest. Contractions will get more intense and closer together, and at this point, labor progresses to the stage of delivering the baby.
This stage occurs after the baby is born, and it involves delivering the placenta. It is usually reasonably painless and only takes a push or two. Women can choose to keep or discard their placenta. Some women choose to keep it for the nutritional value and can even have it converted into pill form, to be taken like a vitamin or supplement.
Clear signs that labor is 24 to 48 hours away
Many women start to get antsy as their due date gets closer. Being able to identify signs labor is a day or two away can help to calm your nerves and help you feel more confident that you are ready to do what is arguably the most important thing you will ever do.
Your body starts to prepare for labor contractions and delivery at least 24 to 48 hours away from when real labor contractions begin, and it’s time to go to the hospital immediately to have your baby.
The following are early signs of labor.
Losing the mucus plug
The mucus plug is a thick plug that is formed to keep bacteria and other substances away from the baby while you are pregnant.
It can be easy to miss this early sign of labor because, for many women, it occurs while using the bathroom. When you wipe, you may notice a thick glob of what looks a lot like discharge. Your mucus plug is much thicker than any discharge you have experienced, though, and can and often does contain a little blood.
Sometimes referred to as the bloody show, the mucus plug thins out and then falls out as the cervix dilates and prepares for labor. Although the mucus plug can dislodge a week or more before labor starts, many women don’t experience the loss of their mucus plug until hours or a couple of days before labor.
The baby drops
One of the more noticeable signs of labor in the next few days is the baby dropping. This occurs because the cervix begins to dilate or soften, allowing the baby to move further down into the birth canal.
Uterine contractions will begin once the baby has moved far enough into the birth canal that the head is putting pressure on the cervix itself.
By looking into a mirror, you can usually tell that the baby looks lower in your belly than just the day or even a few hours before. You may feel like you need to urinate more frequently, have trouble moving around, and feel pressure on your hips, back, and lower abdomen.
The amniotic sac rupturing is one of the labor signs that you often cannot mistake for anything else. When your water breaks, there is often a rush of warm fluid that may slow to a trickle but doesn’t stop.
Most of us have seen the scene in movies where the tell-tale labor sign for the woman is her water breaking. There’s almost always a gush of clear fluid, and then she has a baby. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple.
There may very well be a big gush when your water breaks, but it doesn’t stop. It is nearly impossible to mistake it for accidental urination. There is a lot of fluid in the amniotic sac, and it has to make its way around the baby and out of you. That takes time. It’s also often not a clear and watery fluid, which is entirely normal.
Once your water breaks, you need to go to the hospital or birthing center, regardless of whether or not real contractions have begun. Waiting too long after experiencing your water breaking can lead to complications in delivery and possible stress to the baby.
Your water breaking is a sign labor is less than 48 hours away.
Many women find that a day or so before they go into labor and real contractions begin, they experience a little bit of weight loss. The constant slow climb increase in weight is often halted because your body is trying to flush out any and all waste before the intense contractions begin.
This is often a sign of labor approaching, and the baby’s birth is right around the corner. If you stop gaining weight and are using the bathroom with increased frequency, or have diarrhea, pay attention and notice signs of it. Labor nears.
An early sign that labor is a few days away is the need to get things done and ready for baby. Pregnant women often get a surge of energy when their bodies sense labor approaching. They decorate, clean, cook, and suddenly have the energy they didn’t have just days before. An overwhelming desire to get everything ready for baby is one of the early signs of labor.
If this is your first pregnancy, you may find that the first stage of labor can take a lot longer than you thought. Regular contractions can take well over 24 hours before they are regular enough to go to the hospital.
As your body begins the process of cervical dilation, contractions begin to push baby’s head further down and make labor start. Giving birth is a process that is often a long one. It’s not a sprint but a marathon.
You may notice a bloody show (blood-tinged discharge), increased vaginal discharge, or a dull ache in your back as an expecting mother. But you know that you are in true labor when regular contractions begin.
Ways to go into labor overnight
Sometimes waiting for the common signs of labor can take what feels like forever, and you still don’t start labor. As the date of your baby’s expected arrival comes and goes, you can get desperate to get the show on the road and start leaking fluid, having contractions, or having a bloody show. Every false alarm makes you miserable, and you don’t want to wait for labor that’s still 24-48 hours away.
If you have spoken with your doctor, and have been given the thumbs up to try a few safe methods of throwing yourself into labor, then go ahead and try them. While no methods aside from a medical induction by a professional doctor are proven to be true methods of starting labor, many women swear by the following tricks to get things moving.
It’s quite possibly the last thing on your mind right now, but the thought process is that semen can help to soften the cervix, leading to real contractions and labor. So as long as your water has not broken, it is still totally safe to have a little intimacy with your partner. Especially if it means that it may result in you having a baby sooner.
When all the signs are present that your body is ready, such as dilation, your date of expected delivery is nearing or has passed, and your baby has dropped, many doctors suggest walking to jump-start labor.
The movement (and gravity) can help to move baby down further into a good position for delivery and can sometimes get things moving faster toward delivery. While it can be difficult to walk if you are uncomfortable, have Braxton Hicks, or need to pee every five minutes, exercise is always good.
Just be careful. The hormone relaxin can make you clumsy as things start to loosen up to make the delivery of your baby a less painful and more medically possible act.
An enzyme in pineapple, called bromelain, is thought by many to cause labor. The downside to this is that many doctors have asserted that you’d have to eat a lot of raw pineapple for this trick to work. The estimated amount is seven whole pineapples.
While you may not be able to throw yourself into labor that’s mere hours away with pineapple alone, eating some in combination with some of the other suggested activities may certainly help you get to the point where labor is only 24-48 hours away, if not sooner.
Some women swear by eating spicy foods to put themselves into a quick labor. Be warned, however, that this can cause heartburn, stomach pain, or diarrhea. There is no evidence that this actually works, but if you are a fan of spicy food and heartburn isn’t much of an issue for you, then it’s worth a shot!
The importance of knowing the signs of labor
Labor signs can be tricky. Is it heartburn or the beginning of contractions? Is it a bloody show or simply increased discharge? Is it Braxton hicks or the real deal? Are you nesting or just experiencing anxiety?
You know yourself and your body better than anyone. Understanding the signs of labor as they pertain to your body will help you to know when it’s time to grab your hospital bag and go to the hospital.
Be aware of the signs described in this article, and remember that if your water breaks or if you are having contractions that are three to five minutes apart consistently for an hour, go to the labor and delivery department of your birthing center or hospital.
If you have your doctor’s approval to try to jump-start labor on your own, feel free to try any of the methods that have been described above. Sex, exercise, and a healthy diet are safe for most women right up to the beginning of labor. Be careful not to ingest anything that isn’t safe or engage in any activities that aren’t deemed safe for pregnancy.
Your baby will come when the time is right. It can be frustrating waiting, especially as the days on the calendar pass by and you’re more than ready to see your little bundle of joy. Until that happens, get plenty of rest, stay hydrated, and stay calm. Watch for signs of labor, and be ready to welcome your newest addition to your family.